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Published April 7, 2020


Stories from the virus front: Social distancing is not perfect

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Shopping at supermarkets and running routine errands have been quite an eye-opener ever since our pandemic style of life has begun.

Against the advice of my daughter, I ventured out to pick up a few things. “I don’t like you going this often,” she said. ”You’re old.”

My kids are now thinking of me as old. It seems like just yesterday I was embarrassing them on the first day of school, which I felt was mandatory to attend with a camera and video camera hanging from my neck.

“I’m not that old. I’m in good shape, and I’m careful.”

My mother had to go out and search for food for her family as a teenager during WWII. Going to get eggs, milk and fruit at a supermarket is nothing compared to that. But it was nice of her to care about my safety.

As I entered the store I noticed that the hand sanitizer dispenser was guarded by an employee, who gave each customer one sheet. "It has become that valuable?" I asked the young man assigned to the task. "That, and someone stole the whole thing yesterday," he said, "dispenser and all."

I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.

I accepted the sheet, hoping that the young man was not asymptomatic. He was touching a lot of sheets. I began to wipe off my hand and the cart’s top handle bar. The store was unusually quiet and not crowded. There were plenty of products, although the crowd favorites were missing.

“It was hectic in the morning when they all came in for the usual staples,” said the manager.

There were plenty of eggs to choose from, and even bottled water. That may be a good sign that things are calming down. We can just hope, anyway.

Earlier, I stopped by Buc-ees and got into a brief conversation with one of the clerks about toilet paper.

“They are prying the dispensers open in the bathrooms and stealing the rolls,” he complained.

It was bound to happen. Perhaps soon, a clerk will stand next to us in each stall, handing out single sheets of toilet paper. “I like to use two sheets at a time, please. What’s the limit?”

But I’m not the harbinger of only bad news.

People seem to be friendlier – at least those I have run across – even though we have to stay six feet apart from each other. Shoppers are, for the most part, understanding about waiting in line on the X where each of us is supposed to be.

Some of us have trouble seeing the big blue X marks on the floor and have to be instructed by the cashier. “Sorry. I know it’s there for a reason,” I said, and moved the cart over on top of the X. The guy behind me was equally observant and also moved his cart.

Then it was time to check the mailbox. The post office was deserted. I stuck my head in the open doors to make sure everything was O.K. Maybe someone held them up and stole all their toilet paper.

“We’re open. Come on in,” said the clerk behind the counter.

“Where are all the people,” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe they're shopping,” he said.

I think they were at home counting the toilet paper rolls they bought early in the morning, perhaps planning to trade them for some hand sanitizer.

I bought some stamps and practiced social distancing until he asked me to sign the signature pad with one of those sticks attached to it, which other people paying with credit cards have already touched. Social distancing isn’t perfect.

I was ready with my travel-sized anti-bacterial hand sanitizer to kill those germs right off my hands. I found a bunch of those bottles around the house the other day while cleaning up. It was like finding gold - even better.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)